Fort Lauderdale Plea Bargain Defense Addressed by Supreme Court Decision

You have the absolute right to effective counsel during the plea bargaining stage of your Fort Lauderdale criminal case.

That’s something our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys have always believed. Now, though, it’s been explicitly laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision arose out of something our attorneys have unfortunately seen too many instances of: attorneys that give their clients wrong or poor advice, resulting in penalties that were far harsher than were necessary given the circumstances.

The two cases – Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye – were grouped together on this issue. While the circumstances of each case were very different, both raised the same question: Do those accused of a crime have the right to sound legal advice throughout the process of plea bargaining?

The opposition argued that, no they don’t because plea bargains aren’t constitutionally protected rights. This is true.

Plea bargains are hammered out between prosecutors and defense attorneys and usually involve some level of compromise, i.e., you drop x-y-z felony charges, and we’ll plead guilty to this lower, misdemeanor charge. There is no mandate or guarantee under the law that says the prosecution has to offer you a plea bargain. But most of them do.

In fact, in the vast majority of cases – somewhere between 95 and 97 percent – a plea bargain is the resolution. That means an overwhelming portion of cases never go to trial. And what that also means is that if you don’t have adequate legal representation at this phase of the game, you are in trouble.

And with this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time formally recognized that. In fact, as Justice Kennedy has been widely quoted as saying, “In today’s criminal justice system, the negotiation of a plea bargain, rather than the unfolding of a trial, is almost always the critical point for the defendant.” He added that the plea bargain is not some sideshow to the criminal justice system – it IS the criminal justice system.

The two cases that sparked the ruling were the result of two very different circumstances. In Missouri v. Frye, a college student was pulled over for his fourth alleged offense of driving with a revoked license. Because he had so many prior offenses, he was charged with a felony. The prosecution, however, extended a plea bargain that would have allowed him to reduce that felony to a misdemeanor and serve about three months in jail. But the defendant never knew about that offer – because his attorney never told him. So instead, he pleaded guilty to the felony charge – without conditions – and was sentenced to three years behind bars.

In Lafler v. Cooper, the defendant was facing charges of attempted murder in an attack in which he reportedly shot a woman several times in the thigh and buttocks. His attorney told him – wrongly – that he couldn’t be prosecuted for attempted murder under state law if the wounds were inflicted below the waist. Based on that assumption, the defendant turned down a plea bargain. He went to trial, and was subsequently convicted.

In both cases, bad legal representation resulted in poor outcomes for these defendants.

What this legislation does is give defendants legal recourse when these kinds of situations occur. This is a great step because you don’t hire an attorney expecting they will be incompetent.

However, it’s better to research the credentials and results of both the attorney and the firm they work for. Know their track record. Read the testimonials. Make sure they are experienced in the field in which you need representation. Ultimately, this could save you a world of trouble in the long run.

If you need to speak with a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach, contact The Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert at 561-988-8000 for a free consultation.

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